Wednesday 1 August 2018

You Are What You Eat 13

Dog friendly vegan doughnut café opens in Hackney (headline)

About 30 years ago, Upwards were very scornful about the proliferation of coffee shops in places like Victoria Station. Suddenly you could get a real cup of coffee and take it away in a paper cup for your journey, instead of sitting there for an hour without even a glass of water. They swore they would never patronize these establishments because, well, bang would go sixpence!

Takeaway lunches are for one, takeaway dinners are for two. Eileen Weybridge moans that everybody gets takeaways “these days” and what will happen to home-cooked meals and kitchens? She forgets that the home-cooked food took all day to prepare, which was fine if you were a woman married to a “breadwinner”.

Upwards used to claim they’d had “ham and salad” for lunch. This meant a small portion of ham and salad, accompanied by thick slices of bread and butter, and followed by semolina pudding with jam. They’d really eaten the makings of a ham sandwich, but couldn’t admit it.

Even though the Spectator points out that the statistics are unreliable, Upwards and Weybridges are very worried about working-class children being obese. It  must be those fast-food outlets in poor areas, and the “processed” food poor people eat.

Food banks ask for tinned food because most of their clients have few cooking facilities and nowhere to store fresh food. When people are starving because their benefits have been cut, worrying about obesity is a luxury. But it’s such fun sneering at people who “shove something in the oven because they can’t be arsed and they’d rather watch Eastenders”, isn’t it? (Via Facebook)

@Louisathelast on Twitter led a definitive exchange on why poor people eat cheeseburgers. Here are the highlights:

When I was at my poorest, I ate a lot of McDonald’s. But isn’t eating out more expensive? Well... More expensive than the absolute cost of a cheeseburger and fries you make from scratch at home, with bulk ingredients? Yeah. But more expensive than the cost of all those ingredients put together? No. And that’s the *real* cost, when you are poor. When you have $5, you do not have the money to buy ground beef, cheese, buns, seasoning, condiments, potatoes, and oil for frying the potatoes. That’s more like...$15-20, assuming you don’t have some staples to start with. And that you’re buying the absolute cheapest options. So, you have $5. But wait, you could save it up! No, you can’t, because you’re hungry now.

She adds that you don't have the eight hours needed to process and cook (cheap) dry beans, because you're working. Good-for-you veg like baby carrots are not filling enough. And it's hard work cooking three meals a day. And there are only so many times you can face pasta and sauce.

@raznochintsy adds: At my poorest, I lived off potatoes. I could get a 10lb bag for 99 cents. I’d get leftover packets of sauces from people at work to “dress” them. George Orwell reported that when you live on bread and marge you can’t do anything but sleep or read old Sherlock Holmes stories. He was also quite brusque with people who say the poor can live on brown bread and carrots.

I recommend rice with Ainsley Harriot soups...

In north Norfolk I found myself being served Nescafé, like it was 1991 or something.
(Sathnam Sanghera)

What’s the difference between a café and a caff? A museum member's room is definitely, a café, but who really wants to eat rocket and chickpea salad? It costs very little to make, and is sold at a huge mark-up because it’s “upmarket” food. What makes it upmarket? The non-native ingredients. The bread is “special” – sourdough, or baguette, or ciabatta (German, French, Italian). It has to be “crusty”, and too thick, and is usually rather stale. And any fillings (cheese, ham, falafel) come with rocket, peppers or sun-dried tomato. As well as being over-priced, it’s old-fashioned and dull.

Rowena Upward is opening a caff.
She may diversify into a street food stall – none of them sell British food. On the menu:

Black leaf tea brewed in an urn
Mellow Birds coffee, made with hot milk
Leeks in cheese sauce
Crusty bread and paté
Coronation chicken
Quiche Lorraine
Shrimp wiggle
Cheese potato pie
Bacon roll
Toad in the hole
Steak and chips
Mashed potatoes
Gravy with lots of Bisto
Liver-sausage sandwiches on white sliced bread
Heavy cheesecake with raisins
Crustless andwiches served with cress and a few crisps

“Traditional home-cooked British food!” chirrups Rowena.

“But that’s supposed to mean fresh, free-range and locally sourced!” wails Samantha. “And given a modern twist with rocket, coriander and chillies!”

“You can keep those chillies out of my dinner!” says Mr Definitely. “Steak and kidney pud – that’s proper British food!” He's outraged that the Co-op now put chillies in beetroot. "They're supposed to taste of vinegar!"

His daughter Sharon adds: "Heinz have added chilli and cumin to tinned ravioli. Well, really, I mean."

If there’s a new kind of exotic cuisine that I simply must try, that comes with its own unpronounceable spices, it will turn out to be HOT. Upwards have to pretend to like very very hot food even if they don’t, and I really ought to stop letting the side down.

Though we are supposed to like “delicate flavours” (and weak tea). We pretend that we only eat food because we like the taste. As somebody said, where are the chips? (And the answer is “in a miniature shopping trolley”.) When not exclaiming over fugitive tastes, we are supposed to like chillies that burn off the roof of your mouth. What we are not allowed to like is anything that tastes salty, sweet and vinegary (all once, please). If you put tomato ketchup on everything, your palate will become “vitiated” and you won’t be able to taste the refined flavours that are the real point of eating. There is obviously a rhetoric here of superior people with “finer” sensibilities.

Upwards write endless articles in the broadsheets about canny ways to make your children try new foods. Sharon Definitely says “If Madison wants cheese chips, she gets cheese chips.”

The Guardian tells us that white supermarket bread is not as good for you as “artisanal” bread. Rubbish, says botanist James Wong (pictured), same nutrition, same calories. This is just snobbery.

Affluent consumers are almost twice as likely to think they know more about nutrition than lower earners. But this doesn’t correlate with better-informed choices. In fact, higher earners are more likely to be influenced by misinformation and pseudoscience. (James Wong)

Humankind’s tendency to randomly attach moral labels to foods (with the inference that immorality is at the root of ill-health) goes back far longer than today’s food fads re gluten, dairy and “processed foods”. (James Wong, paraphrase)

Upwards dislike anything with “mass” in the title. Surely only exclusive food is good for you?

Mass-produced food = Unhealthy? The nutritional value of food is determined by chemical make-up, not its location or scale of production. Essentially all fruit and veg (inc organic) are mass-produced.(James Wong)

In Hong Kong, Ferrero Rocher are known as “gold sand” and they quickly became a marker of social class. (

James Wong's latest book is How to Eat Better.

More here, and links to the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Am now thinking about boil-in-the-bag cod in parsley sauce, and Green's cheesecake kit (height of 70s sophistication).